Council that regulates immigration consultants accused of fraud, forgery and human rights violations

The council that oversees the work of thousands of immigration consultants in Canada is facing serious allegations from one of its own members, who has filed a court action against the non-profit organization in Ontario Superior Court.

Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council says allegations of misconduct have no merit

A young boy holds a Canadian flag on Canada Day in 2014. A court filing contains serious allegations about the body that regulates Canada's more than 4,000 immigration consultants. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The council that oversees the work of thousands of immigration consultants in Canada is facing serious allegations from one of its own members.

Muhammad Watto, 54, alleges in court documents that the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) has engaged in fraud, forgery and human rights violations. 

Watto, who has been a long-time critic of the council, has filed a notice of application under the Not-for-profit Corporation Act asking the Ontario Superior Court to order a formal investigation into the ICCRC, a non-profit organization that has been mandated by the federal government to regulate immigration, citizenship and international student advising services. 

Muhammad Watto, an immigration consultant for 12 years, is a long-time critic of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. (Submitted)

"I have observed myself some major discrepancies and some major alleged fraudulent activities concerning, not only the way they were handling public complaints, but also the way they were handling the funds," said Watto, who has been a consultant for 12 years.

Among the allegations in the court filing are:

  • The directors and officers of the council are working against the charter, mandate and articles of the corporation and for their own self-interest.
  • Altering and forgery of financial statements.
  • Multiple counts of accounting fraud. 
  • Failure to secure, or destruction of, financial records.
  • Open violations of human rights,

The notice of application also says the RCMP is reviewing information about the council's activities.

Regulatory council set up in 2011

The allegations have yet to be proven in court and the council denies it has done anything wrong. 

Details about the allegations have yet to be released.

The regulatory council, which was set up in 2011, sets the rules for how immigration consultants conduct themselves, providing education, licensing and discipline. It's needed to help and protect those who want to come to Canada, overseeing more than 4,000 consultants. It is run by a 14-member board of directors.

If the council isn't running smoothly, those who will suffer most are the immigrants and refugees who use consultants in their efforts to live in Canada.

Immigration consultants can help immigrants gain Canadian residency status and ultimately citizenship. A court filing says the body regulating consultants is engaged in fraud and violations of human rights, accusations denied by the ICCRC. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The council also recently fired its president, Stephen Ashworth, who had been hired only a year ago.  Ashworth was the fifth president of the ICCRC, which was created in 2011 by the previous Conservative government to replace a prior body which was entangled in a number of problems.

Cindy Beverly, ICCRC director of communications, said Ashworth was relieved of his duties because "the board has a different alignment." 

Ashworth would not comment on his dismissal.

Recommendation that council be disbanded

This is not the first time the council has faced controversy. Last June, a parliamentary committee recommended that the government get rid of the council and step in to regulate consultants directly after hearing of problems facing the regulator from within. 

Watto would support that recommendation. 

"We want government to look into this and take over," he said.

The ICCRC sent a written response to the CBC's request for an interview about Watto's allegations. 

"The ICCRC is committed to good governance and financial probity. The ICCRC rejects Mr. Watto's unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct,"  it reads in part.

It also noted that Watto is facing potential disciplinary action and revocation of his licence.

"I have not done anything wrong," said Watto, who characterized the filing of a complaint against him as an attempt to intimidate him. He said the same thing has happened to other members who asked questions about the council's transparency and accountability. Watto said the accusations against him are without merit. 

Federal department says council operates at 'arm's length'

The department for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said it is aware of the court action and the recent dismissal of Ashworth.

In a written statement it said "the ICCRC is the regulator of immigration consultants and is a self-governing organization that has an arm's-length relationship with the department."

As for the year-old recommendation that government scrap the council, the department said it "continues to closely analyze the report." 


Laura Lynch


CBC Radio correspondent Laura Lynch has reported from many parts of the world, most recently Europe and the Middle East. She has also worked as the CBC's Washington correspondent and as a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. She is based in Vancouver.